I am finally now ready to admit that after 20 years of vegetarianism (or pescatarianism to be precise), I have officially re-joined the meat-eating world.
This has not been an easy, straight-forward process, I have been veggie far longer then I’ve ever been a meat-eater and being veggie is/was very much a part of who I thought I was. Here, I will attempt to explain my decisions, that is not to say I denounce vegetarianism as a concept, so please no hate mail, I just think it is no longer for me…
So why did I become veggie? I remember watching a video at school when I was about 10 years old where factory-reared chickens got their heads chopped off and still ran around for a couple of seconds/minutes without their heads. I can’t begin to imagine what possessed my teacher to show us that video, but I recall about half of the class turning veggie immediately after, most succumbing back to meat after a week or so.
I asked my mum if I could be veggie on the way home from school that very day, mum said yes so long as I continued to eat fish as otherwise I’d ‘shrivel up and die’. So that was the compromise, I could forsake meat so long as I continued to eat fish.
I came from a very carnivorous family and I swear my mum didn’t quite know what to do with me for the first few years. Pasta wasn’t really invented in Manchester back then, aside from Spag Bol (well not where I grew up anyway). I think I lived off Baked Beans on Toast, Fish Fingers and Baked Potatoes until I discovered Pasta and Pesto a few years later.
I never really missed meat, perhaps because I turned veggie so young, aside from my mum’s Chilli Chicken – 20 years later I can still conjure up that taste…
So when and why did things change?
I guess the first time I started to think I was missing out was when I was sampling the menu for our wedding, almost three years ago now. Lee and I sat down in the oldest tapas bar in Seville and were served 22 different courses that we would later have at our wedding breakfast. About a third of these were meat dishes, which of course I didn’t try, but although I didn’t say anything at the time I did start to wonder whether I was missing out.
I kind of forgot about it all, until I was cooking Lee a Chicken and Chorizo stew a year or two later and it smelled so good. I tried to put a little piece of Chorizo to my mouth but it would just not go in. I was still a vegetarian.
You see I don’t mind cooking meat for my hubby but had never tasted my own wares so to speak. When I do buy meat for Lee, I insist on buying the nice, free-range, organic meat which has spent its short life running through beautiful fields rather than penned into awful cages.
This kind of meat wasn’t readily available when I first became veggie, at the time I was consuming lots of processed meat, which I associated with that haunting video.
Also, now as an adult food and drink is a big part of my life. I work in food and drink PR, I am studying for my Wine and Spirits Diploma, I run a food and drink blog. I’ve started to question, am I not limiting my relevance and expertise by not eating meat?
For example, when it comes to wine matching, I know the theoretical reasons why the protein in a steak can soften the tannins in a Cabernet Sauvignon and so why this is a classic match but I’ve never experienced this for myself. As I am going into Diploma level study which is not about factual recall but an evaluative assessment of wines and their context, is the theory alone enough?
I confided in a couple of people before Christmas of my thoughts, including my husband Lee – who was surprised and vowed to help me ‘experiment’ with meat to satisfy my curiosity and not breathe a word to anyone until I’d made a firm decision as to how I wanted to proceed. If I didn’t like what I was tasting, I could return to being veggie and no-one would be any the wiser.
So from January, I started experimenting…
I started to cook some of the meat dishes I know my husband loves to see what all the fuss was about, Lamb Steak and Curly Kale rice, Chicken and Chorizo Stew, Albondigas etc. I struggled at first, while I enjoyed the taste, the meaty, fatty textures were so new to me. Also, I think I had a big mental barrier, as a veggie I wasn’t supposed to be enjoying this…
Lee then started preparing some of the veggie meals we usually eat but using meat instead of quorn, so the lush chocolate chilli he makes but this time with prime chunks of Aberdeen Angus beef instead of quorn chunks, a cottage pie and proper meaty spag bol with real mince. I enjoyed all three and it pains me to say but I could see how much more flavour they had than the veggie versions I’ve enjoyed for so long. Phew, that was very hard to admit!
So now, I guess my vegetarian phase (I never knew it was a phase) is over. I am tentatively enjoying rediscovering meat.
Tomorrow, I will be trying my first proper roast lamb, complete with roasties, home-made meaty gravy and yorkshire puds. And I have a new found freedom with cookbooks, as so many more recipes are now relevant to me, next on the hit list is the Claridge’s Lancashire Hot Pot from Adam Byatt’s How To Eat In.
Wish me luck…